Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis are convinced the Patriots cheated them out of a potential Super Bowl title.
The pair of Steelers legends said on Roethlisberger’s “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger” podcast that the Patriots cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, a 41-27 Patriots victory that preceded their eventual 24-21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“Hey, to be fair, the Patriots cheated,” Roethlisberger said.
Bettis replied: “For sure, they did. It’s not even a question in my mind.”
The Patriots’ first dynasty run from 2001-’04 will forever be viewed with an asterisk due to the Spygate controversy, and there have been other cheating allegations since opponents learned the Patriots cheated during that time.
The quarterback and running back were discussing Roethlisberger’s plea to Bettis to return for one more season following their loss to the Patriots when Bettis joked that perhaps they would have won that game had Roethlisberger not thrown three interceptions.
Roethlisberger then offered his comments on the Patriots cheating, and just like in their playing days, Bettis took the handoff and ran with it.
Bettis alleged the Patriots had the team’s signs, and that helped stall an early promising drive by Pittsburgh in what proved to be a pivotal point in the game.
The Steelers faced a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 39-yard line roughly halfway through the first quarter while trailing 3-0.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line coach, Russ Grimm, made a hand-slapping motion that indicated to run a counter play. Bettis alleges the Patriots saw that, and then called timeout.
But what happened next tipped him off that something fishy was going on.
“Who normally goes to the sideline on timeouts? The defensive captains, right? They told the nose guard … they pulled him to the sideline. Big 400-pound guy, he don’t want to go to the sideline and come all the way back,” Betts said. “What he want to go to the sideline for? They yelling, made him go to the sideline and I always thought ‘What he going…’ He went all the way to the sideline and back.”
The Steelers then ran the counterplay, but the nose guard in question looped him into the hole to make the stop. Bettis fumbled on the play, but it didn’t matter since he didn’t get the yard.
Bettis referred to the nose guard as Washington, seemingly in reference to former Patriot Ty Washington, but he wasn’t on the team that year.
Linebacker Roosevelt Colvin is the Patriot credited with the tackle on that play.
Tom Brady hit Deion Branch with a 60-yard touchdown on the next play to put New England ahead, 10-0.
“They stopped us on fourth down. That’s a critical play in the game,” Bettis said. “They had our signs and they called a timeout to get them ready for that play because they knew it was coming. No questions in my mind. I remember vividly because I thought, ‘Why is this big dude going to the sideline?’”
Stealing signs in sports is always a tricky subject since there’s sometimes a gray line between what is legal and what is not.
The Patriots have not earned the benefit of the doubt due to their dubious actions over the years, which leaves Roethlisberger and Bettis miffed 19 years later.